Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Strategies for Victory

The training of the Iraqi security forces is an enormous task, and it always hasn't gone smoothly. We all remember the reports of some Iraqi security forces running from the fight more than a year ago. Yet in the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress. At this time last year, there were only a handful of Iraqi battalions ready for combat. Now, there are over 120 Iraqi Army and Police combat battalions in the fight against the terrorists...
- President Bush 30/11/05
A consistent problem with the US strategy in Iraq has been an apparent inability to honestly describe the situation on the ground. When the administration launched the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" there was an obvious attempt to address that problem in some way. Dubya admitting that "it hasn't always gone smoothly" is a case in point. My fear is that this is simply a change in rhetoric designed to disguise the fact that they're still painting a picure of progress which isn't reflected in the real world.

President Bush says that real progress is now being made in the training of the Iraqi security forces. The Vice-President of Iraq disagrees. Ghazi al-Yawer, a moderate Sunni, claims that the training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a serious setback in the last six months.
Al-Yawer said recent allegations that Interior Ministry security forces dominated by Shiites have tortured Sunni detainees were evidence that many forces are increasingly politicized and sectarian. Some of the recently trained Iraqi forces focus on settling scores and other political goals rather than maintaining security, he said. In addition, some Iraqi military commanders have been dismissed for political reasons, rather than judged on merit, he said.

He said the army, also dominated by Shiites, is conducting raids against villages and towns in Sunni and mixed areas of Iraq, rather than targeting specific insurgents, a tactic he said reminded many Sunnis of Saddam Hussein-era raids. "Saddam used to raid villages," using security forces, he said. "This is not the way to do it."
Indeed. In an admittedly slightly facetious post last month, I tried to make the same general point:
Seriously, having over 200,000 armed security bods of questionable loyalty in a highly unstable country is not something I'd be inclined to boast about.
Bush likes to talk numbers. We've trained x number of people and have y number of battalions and so on. This is totally beside the point if the people being trained are not using that training in a useful way. Mr al-Yawer doesn't seem to think that they are. In fact, he's worried that many of them are acting in a very dangerous way and that they may be further destabilising the country. That's pretty much exactly the point I was trying to make.

There are many historical examples of just this sort of thing happening. The "West" trains up the population of the "liberated" country in military strategies and tactics, and supplies them with the necessary military equipment to defend themselves and keep order. Once trained, the population then put their new strategies and equipment to use in ways which the "West" had never intended. Civil wars, wars with neighbouring countries, and wars against the people who initially trained them are all par for the course. So when Bush says "there are over 120 Iraqi Army and Police combat battalions in the fight against the terrorists" it genuinely does make me worry. It clearly makes the vice President of Iraq worry too. Military training is one thing; loyalty and proper democratic control are another thing altogether.*

We know that the Iraqi security forces have been inflitrated by various militia groups although we don't really know to what extent. We (I anyway) also don't really know how the "coalition" intends to deal with the problem. As things stand, it appears that these infiltrators are included in all the figures of readiness given by the US administration.

Today, 43 people have been killedat the Baghdad police academy by two suicide bombers. Spectacular terrorist attacks like these generate some coverage in the western media although not a great deal. The sectarian and tribal violence which is part of everyday life in Iraq get almost no coverage at all. Mr Bush can continue to paint his pretty pictures in Washington. In the real world, the picture is very different. Much of the canvas remains blood red.

* I have an idea for a realistic way to judge the dependability of the Iraqi security forces. How many Iraqi battalions would a Fox News reporter be prepared to go on patrol with on the streets of Iraq (without US military support)? Right now, I suspect the answer is zero. When western journalists are prepared to put their lives in the hands of these units then they can start telling us how so much progress is being made in the country.

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